Ohio Supreme Court agrees to consider questions over energy bill fight

The Ohio Supreme Court on Monday agreed to consider questions related to a contentious referendum campaign that fizzled this fall.

Ohioans Against Corporate Bailouts wanted to put House Bill 6 — a controversial energy law — up for a referendum but failed to collect enough signatures within the 90 day window.

The group argued in a federal lawsuit that it faced an unconstitutional restraint on speech because 38 days of its 90 day window were lost while waiting for pre-approvals from the attorney general and secretary of state.

U.S. District Court Judge Edmund Sargus, Jr., said federal court lacked jurisdiction to decide the question of whether state law conflicts with the Ohio Constitution.

Sargus certified questions to the Ohio Supreme Court, including:

— Does the right of referendum in the Ohio Constitution guarantee petition circulators a full 90 days?

— Does state law requiring pre-approvals by state officials violate the constitution?

— If the constitution guarantees 90 days, should petitioners’ own errors be deducted from the 90 day window?

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Lawmakers gave final approval to House Bill 6 on July 23 and Gov. Mike DeWine signed it into law that day.

That kicked off a bitter, acrimonious referendum campaign that stretched 90 days to Oct. 22. Petition circulators for Ohioans Against Corporate Bailouts said they faced “blockers” from opponents of the referendum, who tracked them and thwarted efforts to gather the 265,744 valid signatures needed to qualify for the ballot.

The fight over HB6 involved allegations of bribes and buyouts, millions of dollars in provocative ads, squads of high-powered lawyers and lobbyists and battalions of competing street-level workers trying collect thousands of signatures hour by hour.

Sargus called it “one of the most expensive and divisive campaigns in Ohio history.”

The new law applies surcharges to electric bills for 4.8 million consumers across the state. Money generated by the surcharges will subsidize nuclear power plants operated by Akron-based FirstEnergy Solutions and coal-fired plants operated by Ohio Valley Electric Corp. The law also rolls back renewable energy standards and energy efficiency programs put in place a decade ago.

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